Meguro UNESCO Lecture Series "How Has Paris Become One of the Most Beautiful Cities in the World?"

Sponsor : Meguro Board of Education / Organizer : NPO Meguro UNESCO Association
Lecturer: Prof. Noriaki Sagara, Prof. Emeritus of Kyoto Notre Dame University, Prof. of Toin University of Yokohama
Jan. 28(Thu.), 2010 14:00- / Midorigaoka Cultural Hall / 52 attendees
Prof. Sagara first lived in Paris when he was a 5th grader, and then went to study there in his 20s. In his 30s, 40s, and 50s he lived in Paris from time to time, going back and forth between Japan and France. Showing us some slides, he first introduced the history of Paris, which smoothly acquainted the audience with the city; including myself, who has never visited Paris.
The city initially extended only as far as Cite Island, a sandbank in the Seine. Paris was named after the Celtic Parisii tribe who lived there in the 3rd century BC.
Thinking of Paris, we Japanese used to have an impression of a city admired by all sorts of artists; literary figures such as Kafu Nagai and Riichi Yokomitsu, and painters Leonard Fujita and Yuzo Saeki, all of whom were once attracted to live there. But, contrary to being “the most beautiful”, the city had long been a very unsanitary and smelly place. A ditch made in the middle of a street was a sewage path and filth was thrown into it from people’s windows. When plague prevailed, victims who were poor were simply thrown into a mass burial hole. Even the Palace of Versailles, which seems big enough to have accommodated everything, didn’t have any toilet facilities, and people used the privacy of bushes in the garden.
Several attempts to improve the situation now and then had ended in vain, and finally the city was remodeled by Baron Haussmann, Governor of the Department of Seine including Paris, at the time of Napoleon III in the mid 19th century. These changes included: 1. construction of main streets, 2. making additional parks and squares, 3. restoration of buildings, 4. making waterworks and sewerage system, and 5. installing outdoor lamps. All these efforts set the foundation of the beautiful city we see today.
At present, 1% of the national budget is earmarked for culture. In addition, 1% of the construction costs for new buildings is to be spent on things that are not merely functional parts of those buildings. Valuing practicality may be a step to civilization, but the French tend to find worth in something that seems useless at first and think culture exists in the uselessness. Prof. Sagara concluded his lecture by saying “The dignity of the nation exists in this sense of value.” I was highly impressed by the lecturer with his deep insight toward his study of culture.
     -written by Atsuko Shimizu and translated by Nobuko Matsushita

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